KANSAS CITY, Mo. – One market opened, and another closed as Brazil worked to contain the fallout from an anticorruption investigation targeting the country’s meat industry.
The Federal Police in Brazil raided the facilities of dozens of meatpackers, including leading meatpackers JBS SA and BRF SA. Prosecutors allege that federal regulators took bribes in exchange for loosening food safety regulations resulting in adulterated food products entering commerce.
In response to the investigation, trading partners of Brazil imposed import restrictions or heightened scrutiny of imports of Brazilian meat products.
South Korea lifted its blanket ban on poultry exports from BRF SA, the world’s largest exporter of poultry, which was implicated in the scandal. But Hong Kong moved to ban imports of meat products from Brazil. China also imposed a ban on meat from Brazil.
The European Union implemented a ban on meat products from specific plants, while Chile imposed a blanket ban.
In the United States, inspectors with the US Dept. of Agriculture began testing all shipments of raw beef and ready-to-eat products from Brazil for pathogens. But Food & Water Watch, an environmental advocacy group, urged Acting Agriculture Secretary Michael Young to revoke the meat inspection equivalency status of Brazil.
In a letter to Young, Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said “…the scandal underscores our previous concerns about the integrity and effectiveness of the Brazilian meat inspection system — an issue that has been raised by FSIS in the past.”
She wrote that the last audit report posted in 2015 by the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA showed Brazil had still not implemented “a recognized laboratory testing program for Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) at its government laboratories.” The first shipments of fresh beef from Brazil arrived in the US in October 2016.
“We are deeply concerned about the shoddiness of the Brazilian meat inspection system, not to mention the corruption that has permeated it,” Hauter wrote. “It is laughable that the United States continues to recognize their inspection system as being equivalent.”
JBS and BRF emphatically denied the companies exported tainted meat and have resorted to media campaigns to defend their products and the companies’ reputations. In a regulatory filing, JBS said the investigation did not include the company’s executives, and JBS headquarters were not a target.
BRF denied the company sold adulterated meat. “BRF never marketed rotten meat and was never accused of it,” the company said in a statement. BRF also refuted allegations that cardboard was found in the company’s sausage products.